With my first daughter, we never dealt with food allergies. I was very careful about introducing foods that could be possible allergens within her first 2 years, from peanut butter to chocolate to strawberries. I even made special pesto for her that did not contain pine nuts! At the same time, she was a great eater, and we introduced quite a variety of foods to her, and she was eating and enjoying foods like mildly spicy Indian food before she was 2. At age 5, she doesn’t have any allergies or even food sensitivities.
With my second daughter, we were cautious about foods, but perhaps not as much. A couple months before her 2ndbirthday, she grabbed a spoon that had been “licked clean” of peanut butter and touched it to her mouth before I could grab it (she didn’t even put it in her mouth). Immediately, her lips started swelling until they were enormous, and my husband and I decided not to waste any time and just bring her to the Emergency Room. The nearest hospital was about a 20-minute drive in virtually no traffic, and to this day I am so grateful that there was no traffic and that the reaction never affected her breathing. Or, that we were not away on vacation, hiking or camping, and so on – there were so many scenarios that could have been a disaster, and I believe we are blessed that it was literally the most ideal situation for her to have a reaction, including my husband being home to help me load up the kids and rush to the hospital.
At the hospital, they immediately checked her vitals, and began her on several medications. It had not even occurred to me to try Benadryl, nor did we even have any in the house. It is possible that the Benadryl could have treated the reaction, which again, luckily did not affect her breathing (not anaphylactic). We stayed the night in the hospital for observation (as there can be secondary reactions), and we were sent home with a prescription for an epi-pen and instructions to see an allergist.
Our allergist tested our daughter using both a scratch test and a blood test, which revealed a clear allergy for peanuts, but fortunately not any tree nuts (it is common for a person to have both, as opposed to just one). It also indicates that she is among the more likely to grow out of her allergy (up to 20% of children do), and we go back for testing yearly to see if anything has changed.
I now scrutinize food labels all very carefully, and we are a peanut-free household (as well as trying to eliminate tree nuts as well). My daughter cannot have any peanut products, and she cannot have anything that was ‘manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts’, ‘manufactured on machinery that processes nuts’, and so on – which excludes many products. There is no guarantee that items are peanut free or have not been cross-contaminated at places like ice cream shops, bagel shops, and bakeries, which can be tough for a 2 year old to understand, especially when she sees her big sister getting something she cannot have. That has always included any kind of store-bought birthday cake or any pastries. She is simply too young to understand about her food allergy.
During my scrutiny of food labels, I have learned about other things in foods that I like to avoid as well. For example, I knew a lot of foods had dyes in them, but, for example, I had no idea that almost all the jarred pickles have yellow and blue dyes in them. So although my daughter’s diet is a little more limited due to her allergy, I will say that we are all eating a little healthier, as I try to eliminate things like dyes and artificial flavors that I might have missed in the past.
There are other children in our daughter’s preschool that have nut allergies, so the classroom and snacks are all nut free. When my daughter is old enough to go to elementary school, she will be in a nut-safe classroom, and at lunchtime, will sit at a table with other kids who are allergic to peanuts. We hope that she outgrows her peanut allergy, but understand that she may very well have a lifetime of cautious eating habits ahead of her.
I often hear, especially from those who are my grandparent’s age, that they never heard of allergies like this before. Since 1997, there has been an 18% rise in peanut allergies (CDC.com), and it is often referred to as a peanut allergy epidemic. I am very curious as to why nut allergies are on the rise, and there are many theories (from vaccines to genetics).
Life has definitely changed since that incredibly scary day. I carry an epi-pen and Benadryl with me everywhere we go. We have an epi-pen trainer device which I regularly refresh my knowledge with, and train others (like friends, family, and babysitters). I don’t leave the house or go on the shortest of errands or anywhere without my kit, because there are so many possibilities for a reaction, especially with a very active and curious toddler.
With the prevalence of nut allergies, chances are you have a child who is allergic, or they have a classmate or friend who does. I think it is important for all parents, caregivers, teachers, and so on to be aware of nut and food allergies. I believe food manufacturers will become more sensitive to labeling and perhaps to even changing food production so that more foods are nut-safe, even if it is solely a financial gain since these allergies are on the rise. There are no cures for nut allergies, but there is much research being done, and I recently even heard in the news about a possible treatment patch. Education about such prevalent allergies are so important for everyone.
Marysa Nicholson is a stay-at-home mom of two little girls ages 2.5 and 5. She enjoys the outdoors, eco-friendly living, and staying busy with her family.